Eat Fruit, Live Forever

The idea of fruit bestowing immortality, or at least longevity, is a common one in mythology and folklore. In Norse mythology, the gods are said to eat apples that restore their youth. The fruit can’t entirely prevent them from dying, as shown with Ragnarok and Baldur with the mistletoe, but they presumably don’t die of old age. The keeper of the apples is Idun, a goddess sometimes said to be related to elves or dwarves. One poem refers to her as a daughter of Ivaldi, also the father of the dwarves who made magical items for the Aesir. Her husband is Bragi, god of poetry and son of Odin.

The most prominent appearance of Idun in mythology is the story where she’s kidnapped by the giant Thiazi, father to the wintry goddess Skadi. The Aesir start to grow old without the apples, so Loki has to get her back, which he does by transforming himself into a falcon and her to a nut, which he carries to Asgard in his beak. I don’t know that it’s ever specified where Idun gets the apples, or why no one else is able to access them.

In Greek mythology, there are the golden apples of the Hesperides, a wedding present from Gaea to Zeus and Hera. The Queen of Olympus had them tended by nymphs on an island in the far west of the known world.

They’re guarded by the serpent Ladon, and some sources claim that they can make those who eat them immortal. I don’t know if this was originally part of the myth or due to its confusion with similar stories, though. I’m not sure it ever comes up anyway, since the few apples that Hercules takes to fulfill one of his labors are returned to the garden. The golden apple that Eris uses to indirectly cause the Trojan War is sometimes said to be from there as well.

The island of Avalon that’s supposed to be the resting place of King Arthur is associated with apples, located to the west of Europe, and attended by several sisters with magic powers.

There’s probably a connection there.

In the Bible, there’s the Tree of Life, which could apparently make humans live forever. After Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit that grants them knowledge of good and evil, God is afraid that they’ll eat from this tree as well.

It seems a bit inconsistent, as He apparently never forbade the fruit of that one. Maybe he wouldn’t have minded if they’d lived forever as long as they remained stupid. Some interpretations say that they were originally meant to be immortal anyway, which makes me wonder what the point of the Tree of Life was. Regardless, there will apparently be a few such trees in the New Jerusalem described in the Book of Revelation. The fruit of either tree is never described, but the similarity to the garden of the Hesperides has led the forbidden fruit to be associated with apples. It also doesn’t hurt that the Latin word malus can mean both “apple” and “evil.” This post, which I found when looking for information on immortality-granting fruit, proposes that apples were associated with eternal life because they keep well and can be eaten in cold weather. I’m sure there’s something in that, but at the same time I don’t know for sure that all of the apples from mythology originally WERE apples. Wikipedia claims that apples weren’t even known in Scandinavia in the era in which the myth of Idun would have originated. I’ve seen some suggestions that golden apples might have actually been oranges. In Chinese mythology, the fruit that grants long life is a peach.

So it might not be apples per se that are associated with immortality, but fruit in general.

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10 Responses to Eat Fruit, Live Forever

  1. Joe says:

    The best understanding I’d ever read of the Genesis account, and really what makes it differ from the other creation myths (that many believe are corruptions of this event to make its opposite and opposing ideology seem true) is that the first human couple aren’t being tempted with the mere knowing of good and bad; God has already given them the knowledge of what is good and bad; What the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents is the ability to determine what is good and what is bad, to arbitrate morality as gods. That’s what the serpent offers when he says “God knows that in the eating of the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will become like God.” Enlightenment and power are what he promises they’ll get when they violate the command not to eat of the tree.

    The Tree is the sole thing in the garden that doesn’t belong to them; even the Tree of Life, as you noted, is not off limits as man was intended to live eternally without growing old or dying. Only the Tree of Knowledge is prohibited, standing as the sole symbol of God’s right to be God. The serpent offers self-rule apart from God. This is also tied into the reason God has allowed suffering. The first human couple chose to decide morality for themselves. And that raises the question as to whether or not the creation needs its Creator. Can they wield knowledge and power successfully enough to rule without their maker? The only way to determine that once and for all was to allow mankind to govern themselves as they wished. And the answer to that question has played out over the course of human history.

    • Paul says:

      Oh deary me!

      • The way I understand it, the original sin had nothing to do with sex, as procreation was commanded before they sinned (Gen 1:28), but rather greed and power. The human couple had everything provided them, except one thing which God held back for himself: the authority to be God, to determine good and bad. Power and greed are what the serpent tempted Eve with, and what she succumbed to.

      • Nathan says:

        I’d say one possible interpretation is that it wasn’t until after eating the fruit that Adam and Eve were at all ashamed of their sexuality. Which makes sense if you consider this to be humanity separating itself from the rest of the animal kingdom, as most animals are quite shameless about such things.

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  3. Paul says:

    Adam & eve both eat the ‘forbidden fruit’ (ripe apple) from the Tree of Knowledge (perhaps this is a veiled reference to the idea of the Fall i.e. the autumn, known in Judaism as as the month of Apples ). After which Adam & Eve got ‘to know’ each other biblically speaking that is, and clearly a euphemism for sexual intercourse, which means that as brother and sister they were the first couple to commit incest. This act alone constituted the ORIGINAL but necessary sin. The Serpent in the Garden by the way, refers to the Hydra constellation known as the Shining One that can still be seen rising pre-dawn during the autumnal month of September and like many other serpents associated with the goddess it is generally shown standing on its tail, until God says, “…on thy belly thou shalt go”

  4. Paul says:

    I would love to know why you decided not to publish my comment. Was it perhaps the idea that Adam & Eve were brother & sister and thus committed the cardinal sin of incest? Naturally, the Serpent would have to admit his guilt in all this, since he didn’t have a leg to stand on.

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